A Lord Shani temple in Ahmadnagar district of Maharashtra performed a ‘purification puja’ on Sunday after a young woman offered worship to the idol placed on a platform from where women are traditionally barred.
Authorities at the Shani Shingnapur temple also suspended seven workers for “negligence” while one trustee resigned taking moral responsibility.
The incident took place on Saturday afternoon when the woman, whose identity is unknown, caught security personnel unawares and climbed the platform to perform puja. According to the temple authorities, it all happened within 30 seconds. A few devotees confronted her after the incident but eventually let her go.
“Women have been barred from climbing the platform for hundreds of years. This act was against the rituals that have been going on for years,” said Sayaram Bankar, a temple trustee, justifying the purification ceremony.
Priests bathed the idol with oil and milk, while all shops in the vicinity remained closed till the ceremony was over.
Mr. Bankar said the woman was let off unharmed. “We do not know who she is. She was confronted and let go. She was not attacked or abused,” he said. Mr. Bankar will resign on Monday, bowing to demands from the Ahmadnagar gramsabha.
Practice prevalent in Maharashtra
The Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmadnagar district of Maharashtra attracts thousands of devotees daily. Worshippers of the famous Sai Baba temple in Shirdi make it a point to visit the Shani Shingnapur temple, also.
The practice of barring women from the inner sanctum of religious places is prevalent in some of Maharashtra’s most revered shrines, among them the >Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai . The dargah’s trust has cited menstruation as one of the reasons for not allowing women into the ‘mazaar.’
In response to a public interest litigation petition filed by activists Noorjehan Niaz and Zakia Soman of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, the trust said many religions impose restrictions on women owing to menstruation, perceived as “unclean or embarrassing.” “A woman can at any time have menstrual periods,” the trust said in its affidavit earlier this year.
Many organisations have condemned the Shani Shingnapur temple’s action. “Purifying the temple is an act that has to be condemned. It’s a discrimination against women. At a time when young men and women are coming together with progressive ideas, such actions only take society backwards,” said Ranjana Gavande of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti.